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Gżira Athleta, Hibernians score century victories

Gżira Athleta’s Shawn Montague goes for the basket against Mellieħa. PHOTO: WALLY GALEA

Season game day 2 was characterised by two very high scoring century games that also determined some semifinal spots with, Hibs from Group A practically through to the Shield’s next stage while Depiro and Gzira Athleta already ascertained their qualifying spots from Group B.

Group A

BUPA Luxol     89

Hibernians      119        

(20-31, 13-25, 27-38, 29-25)

Hibernians cruised to a comfortable win over BUPA Luxol, who were making their first seasonal appearance. For the Paolites, this was their first seasonal win after two outings and the final large winning margin practically also ascertained their spot in this competition’s semi-finals.

With their American duo, Mason Vires and Christian Soderholm, immediately on target early in the game, Hibs opened an early double digit 18-6 lead forcing Luxol’s play caller Duncan Fenech to call an early time-out.

The St Andrews’ outfit, fielding just one professional import player, improved with close-range baskets from Stefan Capello, ex-Hibs player Marko Matijevic and even the first decisive offensive plays from their neo-import player, American Caanan Coffey.

The latter had a quiet start as he tried to adapt within the squad early on in the game but then started taking more responsibility upon his shoulder as time went by and, in fact, ended netting a game high 41 personal points.

Hibs introduced their Serb towering centre Ivan Demcesen late in the first rubber and his presence under the boards kept Hibs 31-20 ahead after ten minutes of play.

An 11-1 Hibs rally in the first half of the second quarter extended their lead further with David Bugeja adding on to his import colleagues’ points.

The game was practically over when Hibs opened the second half with a ten-point run moving to a commanding 66-35 lead.

With Coffey increasingly taking offensive decisions, assisted by fellow guard Jean Paul Schembri, Luxol somewhat started to increase their point tally but Hibs did not lose their momentum and also kept pounding their opponents’ basket at the other end to reach the century mark, off a brace of Vires shots from the charity line, with seven minutes to the final buzzer.

Luxol did manage to outscore their opponents in the final quarter to fall just short of the 90-point mark as the defence was quite lax at both ends.

From their end, Hibs rotated all their available players as they managed the last minutes of the game fully aware of their win.

Luxol: J. Cefai, K. Gauci, N. Buhagiar 3, P. Attard 2, JP Schembri 14, A. Trapani 3, L. Trapani, C. Coffey 41, S. Opojevlic 3, M. Matijevic 10, S. Cappello 13.

Hibs: M.Vires 30, N. Cassar, D. Bugeja 19, L. Farrugia 6, K. Dimech 9, A. Axiaq 5, R. Aquilina, M. Attard 2, C. Soderholm 29, I. Demcesen 15, P. Shoults 4.  

Referees: B. Vassallo, F. Ciurariu, I. Ciurariu.

Group B

Gżira Athleta  104

Mellieħa Libertas Spalding       97                                           

(22-18, 31-23, 28-22, 23-34)

Similar to the weekend’s first match, this was also a high-scoring game with Mellieħa Libertas Spalding again making a positive showing but again, similar to a week earlier versus Depiro, falling just short of their opponents. This, however, can still give a positive impetus to the Northerners for their league commitments in the coming weeks.

On the other hand, Gżira Athleta were making their first appearance of the season and they got off on sound footing, leading the game for almost the entire time, even though they could never completely shake off Mellieħa.

There was a moment, at the end of the third quarter when Athleta seemed to have nailed the win, as they opened a seemingly handsome 81-63 lead.

But Mellieħa showed impressive character as they immediately bounced back with a 10-0 run, followed shortly with a nine-point rally, which brought them merely a three-ball away from their opponents, 82-85, with four minutes to play.

The game, which surely was entertaining for those present given the many spectacular plays and dunks on both ends, set off with a Jeremy Joyner and-one play and a Nenad Buvka bucket for Mellieħa.

But Gżira’s reply was 11 points on the trot with the game’s top point-getter, neo-import Shawn Montague grabbing three hoops whilst compatriot Zachary Hudson added another and local forward Nathan Xuereb landed a three-pointer.

Gradually, Athleta opened a temporary double-digit lead but a late first quarter rally from Mellieħa including a Nik Vasovic trey and points from Serb Vukasin Jandric made it a tight four-point game, 22-18, after the first rubber.

Mellieħa slightly lost their momentum in the middle of the second period and this allowed Gżira Athleta to once again forge ahead and open a double-digit margin which they controlled until the interval – 53-41.

Although Adrian Mifsud’s Mellieħa side improved after the break, Gżira did not lay idle and, with their US duo continuing to show athletic and spectacular play aided with further points from Xuereb and returning guard Billy Zammit, they seemed to have closed the game at 81-63 with only one quarter to go.

With positive penetrations from Isaac Bonett, regular hoops from Jandric and with Joyner showing his athletic mettle underneath the boards, Mellieħa gradually started gnawing away at Athleta’s lead moving to just 82-85 away.

A Stefanovic hoop gave some momentary breathing space to Athleta but Mellieħa were still at an arms’ length away as Joyner made it a 86-91 game with just over two minutes to go.

Two quick Athleta offences resulted in five Montague points thus putting pressure on Mellieħa who were now seeing the clock running down and trying to hurry up their plays.

However, Athleta kept their cool and even surpassed the century mark, off a Francesco Mifsud Bonnici free-throw on their way to this victory.

With Mellieħa now out of the running for a semi-final spot, Gżira Athleta and Depiro will fight off Group B’s first placing this Sunday.

Athleta: Z. Hudson 27, S. Montague 38, F. Mifsud Bonnici 2, L. Stefanovic 9, J. Ellul Dowling, N. Xuereb 20, I. Xuereb, S. Vincic 2, R. Abela, B. Zammit 6.

Mellieħa: M. Falzon 7, V. Jandric 21, N. Vasovic 17, I. Bonett 13, C. Briffa, N. Bukva 10, J. Joyner 29, M. Azzopardi, M. Formosa.

Referees: B. Vassallo, I. Simic, F. Ciurariu.

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